Once it was OK to label certain people as cultured. Not now, though. And it isn’t the fault of our minister of culture (somewhat tarnished by his links with Murdoch). The word has lost some of its currency, perhaps because it implies that the rest of us are uncultured – crass, oafish, ill-educated, insensitive, bad with cutlery.
For one thing culture’s meanings are now widely spread: think of pearls and unspeakable things in laboratory petri dishes. Also the noun’s primary meaning (Enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and artistic training) seems a mite discriminatory.
Not that anyone ever has, but I’d hate to be described as cultured. I’d immediately suspect sarcasm. It’s that word “training” that gets me, as if becoming cultured were a conscious goal. A goal which in any case ebbs and flows.
Take music. I own a CD of Alan Rawsthorne’s first and second violin concertos. If I did aspire to being a culturee* those two pieces of music would be worthwhile steps on the upward tilted ladder. The first time Rawsthorne’s had a mention in Tone Deaf. Go on, admit it. You’re impressed.
You shouldn’t be. I haven’t the faintest memory of either piece. Even worse, in checking my discs for something obscure, I was astonished to discover I owned the CD. I could claim kudos for having bought it but since I can’t remember why that would be kudos built on sand.
Which brings me to a niggling question. Does a piece of music, heard and now forgotten, legitimately form part of one’s cultural development? Can one assume that something beneficial “rubbed off”? Seems slightly fraudulent to me. Gives me the shudders. But then I’m not an instinctive knife-and-fork user.
*Culturee. Word fabricated out of laziness.